Are we really awake, or are we in a mad dream? It seems like that, when we see the daily need to make a case for something that is blindingly obvious. Nearly everyone agrees that nuclear weapons are terribly dangerous, that they could destroy all of Earthly creation and that this could happen, by accident, madness or evil design. But still the political establishment and a significant minority of the population think we must continue to deploy nuclear weapons, at enormous cost, for the next forty years. We are surely trapped in a nightmare.
And yet we know we are awake; we know we have to persevere, patiently explaining the case against retention of nuclear weapons.
Where to start?
It is easy to show the cost – an economic case is nearly always the best approach for short-term gains with the electorate.
A political case might work better with the Establishment – weapons retained for power and status might lose their charm now that 155 countries are calling for their total elimination. The nine nuclear weapons nations could come to be regarded as as pariah states. http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/files/000057366.pdf
There is already a good legal case – in 1996 the International Court of Justice declared that the world’s states have a binding duty to accomplish nuclear disarmament. http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/95/7497.pdf
We all crave security. For that we commit billions of dollars, compromise our reputation with the rest of humanity and argue with the highest legal judgement on the planet. But for those who want to believe that nuclear weapons make us more secure there is more evidence every day that they have to ignore.
However, the humanitarian case has proved to be the way to wake up the world to the danger and to the injustice – the injustice of exceptionalism that allows a few rich nations to put at risk the rest of humanity for their own misjudged view of security. Thanks to three major international conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons the idea of asserting the right to possess them is becoming stigmatised in the eyes of the world, and no doubt in the eye of history. Nuclear weapon states choosing to ignore this process, come to the table at the ongoing NPT conferences with no moral clothes to wear.
And having reached this stage of global awareness, the next phase (short of a new draft abolition treaty) is for the nuclear weapons states to be held to account morally for the destructive power that they persist in retaining. Morals can be seen as standards by which we are enabled to live together, but most people can also see that there are intrinsic autonomous values which should rule our individual lives. Therefore the moral case has power both at national and individual level, because to be defended by nuclear weapons is to accept a situation which is totally inconsistent with nearly every other aspect of our lives.
People can live with this inconsistency only until they see it clearly. Governments can live with it only until their people can see it, and have the courage to hold them to account for it. So, beyond the humanitarian case there is the moral case. When we can make it clear that nuclear deterrence (which is at the heart of all the so-called justifications for nuclear weapons) cannot function without a commitment to mass murder and human suffering on a scale never before imagined, then humanity has to reject it.
And this in fact is the key to abolition. Abolition is forever. How can that be achieved? How can we be sure that nuclear weapons are rejected for all time? We will achieve this permanence only when there is a profound and widespread moral dimension to the decision. There is a close parallel with the abolition of slavery. We still struggle to prevent slavery but collectively, as a global society, we can never go back to it, because after centuries of acceptance for economic reasons, we finally came to see that it was morally repugnant and incompatible with universally accepted values.
When that is achieved for nuclear weapons we have a good chance to banish them forever. To maintain the technology and the vast amount of engineering needed for creating even one nuclear weapon is not easy. Even Britain, one of the smallest nuclear powers, has more than 5000 highly qualified people engaged in the task. In the face of a universal moral awareness and global censure, such a high level of activity could never be hidden or sustained. It will be abolished.
There is hope for our world.